Service Learning Serves the Learner and the Community.

Service-Learning 101

A community service trend is sweeping the nation. Ideas and projects are popping up everywhere. “Going Green,” “Giving Back,” and “Pay-It-Forward” are slogans that are earning household name status. These ideas and the deep sense of community and philanthropy that they instill, have sparked a frenzy of class projects. Recycling, tree planting, neighborhood clean-ups, food and clothing drives seem to be at an all time high. Perhaps the encroaching feeling that I may soon need to accept help myself in these hard economic times encourages me to do a little more than I normally do for others. Or maybe doing something unselfish is the “feel good” we need in hard times. In any case you need only look down our school hallways to see the movement taking shape.

Please don’t take the title the wrong way. Community service may just be the backbone that allows this country to stand tall once again. The purpose of selecting the title is to raise awareness of true service learning.

According to the National Service Learning Clearinghouse service learning should posses the following qualities:

  • Promotes learning through active participation in service experiences
  • Provides structured time for students to reflect by thinking, discussing and/or writing about their service experience
  • Provides an opportunity for students to use skills and knowledge in real-life situations
  • Extends learning beyond the classroom and into the community
  • Fosters a sense of caring for others (as adapted from the National and Community Service Act of 1990)

The Clearinghouse goes on the say that, Service-Learning is not: a volunteer program, a compulsory hour of service program, or a program that only serves those receiving service.

Both the learner and the receiver of services should benefit from Service-Learning. The learning process should begin with research and the identification of a problem or need. The service resulting from problem identification should be meaningful and relevant to the students’ lives. Therefore, problem identification is a very important step that should be student-directed. If a teacher, out of the blue, tells her students that they are starting a food drive for Brazilian school children, the students may participate but never really claim ownership of the project. Stakeholder buy in is very important to the success of a service-learning project. Depending of the age of the student, teachers may encourage direction with leading or introductory material.

Once a problem or need is identified the learning process continues with theoretical problem solving. Following the initial problem solving stage should be some type of implementation plan. The reason I say initial problem solving is that students may encounter several more problems during the implementation stage of a service project, i.e. fund raising, material acquisition, travel or shipping … The list of possible situations is countless and unique to every project.

Finally, once a project is complete there should be some sort of culminating event; which could range from celebration to a moment of silence. The key to a successful culminating event would be the addressing of future attention to the matter if needed. Some projects are one time events that serve an immediate need in the community; whereas, other projects may only serve as a bandage for a more pressing and larger issue.

Have fun and learn as you serve.